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Setting the stage for Christmas in St Albans

PUBLISHED: 17:57 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:56 20 February 2013

The cast of Cinderella at The Alban Arena are joined by mayor Kate Morris to lead the city's crowds at this year's Christmas lights switch-on

The cast of Cinderella at The Alban Arena are joined by mayor Kate Morris to lead the city's crowds at this year's Christmas lights switch-on

Sue Armstrong takes a look behind the scenes at the Christmas preparations in St Albans

ST Albans is a special place to visit at any time of year, rich in Roman history and tradition. And at Christmas the atmosphere is magical with the magnificent Cathedral dominating the skyline and festive lights twinkling from shop windows along the cobbled streets and alleyways.
This busy and vibrant city oozes character and has a generous peppering of inviting individual shops, offering plenty of scope to buy unusual and interesting gifts. History is evident everywhere and it is worthwhile stopping amongst the hustle and bustle to look up and admire the craftsmanship of the buildings all around, the medieval windows and timber framed properties, which have seen many a Christmas past.
Shopkeepers have been selling their wares here for centuries and the modern shopping precincts, Christopher Place and The Maltings, have been designed to blend in well with their ancient surroundings and offer all the familiar high street stores you could wish for. The colourful street market also extends through the heart of the city every Wednesday and Saturday.
Like many towns and cities across the country, preparations for Christmas in St Albans have been going on behind the scenes for months. The Christmas lights for the city centre were discretely put in place several weeks before the big switch on in the middle of November, signalling the start of the festive celebrations.
The glittering Christmas market, with its array of seasonal treats and gifts, will return for a week during the final lead up to the big day. It can be found in St Peter's Street and shoppers will be able to browse and take in the wonderful atmosphere. The vast array of goods will range from mistletoe and holly wreaths, jewellery and crafts, to stalls brimming with tangerines, brazil nuts and Brussels sprouts - the latter being a favourite with the Romans, served with walnuts.
Christmas just wouldn't be the same without a Christmas tree. St Albans District Council provide a tree for the city centre each year, which is usually ordered in September when our thoughts are still lingering on summer days. The tree is sourced locally and arrangements are made to ensure it is delivered and decorated in time for the switching on of the lights in November. Because of its size, it is always difficult to put into place but many pairs of hands are recruited to help with the task. The tree stands proudly outside the Alban Arena and makes a cheery sight for passers by and theatre-goers.
Much planning goes into the Christmas shows with titles being chosen as much as a year ahead. And some keen theatre lovers book their favourite seats as early as January to make sure they don't miss out.
Rehearsals for the shows start weeks in advance with scripts to be learnt and dance routines and musical arrangements to be practised. During December the colourful performances start to unfold on stage and there are certainly plenty to choose from here.
Cinderella will be coming to the Alban Arena this year to reveal one of the most famous fairytales in the world. Nearly 100 people are involved in the pantomime, from costume makers and set designers to marketing and box office staff. The large auditorium can seat up to 850 people and the cast aim to enthral and entertain everyone with a dazzling show of music, dance and laughter.
Nearby at The Maltings Art Theatre, the resident theatre company, Lanternfish, will perform Robin Hood. This will follow on from their tour of local schools. Against a backdrop of Sherwood Forest, Maid Marion will join this famous legendary character on stage and the show will be full of good-hearted fun from the rise of the curtain through to the fall of the Sheriff of Nottingham. The small theatre seats up to 130 people and its warm and welcoming atmosphere will ensure all will have a merry time.
The Abbey Theatre will be host to an adapted stage production of James and the Giant Peach, one of Roald Dahl's best loved children's books. This theatre is home to The Company of Ten, one of the premier drama companies in the country. They will be delighting audiences with the adventures of young James who travels across the Atlantic and finds happiness living with his new friends, Centipede, Earthworm, Grasshopper, Ladybird and Spider.
The Cathedral and Abbey Church sits at the top of the hill overlooking all the frantic Christmas activities and beyond to the buried ruins of the Roman city of Verulamium. This ancient and stunning building provides a calming atmosphere, yet a lot of work has been taking place here to decorate it so beautifully and much planning has gone into Christmas concerts and carol services. Included in these celebrations will be a delightful performance by the Choir and Classical Orchestra of the Woodmansterne Collection, using period instruments, a family carol concert accompanied by the St Albans Bach Choir and Alberti Brass and the renowned Festival of Lessons and Carols.
Carols in Hertfordshire have as long a history as in any county but interestingly, the first English carols to appear in print were included in the Boke of St Albans, published in 1486.
More history can be discovered over the Christmas period by anyone wishing to work off those Christmas excesses with a guided city walk. A number of walks will be taking place during December, ranging from a trip through history to a charity ghost tour.
To really get you in the festive mood, new to the city this Christmas is a temporary ice skating rink set up in the front meadow at Westminster Lodge, with St Albans Cathedral as its stunning backdrop. Holding up to 150 people at any one time, the rink is open from December 1 until January 6 - and booking, through the Alban Arena, is highly recommended.
The rink is being set up by the district council, Leisure Connection and Cousins Entertainment, which also provides the temporary rink at Winchester Cathedral. It is open from 10am to 8.30pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday and from 10am to 9.30pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Once all the Christmas carols are sung and the festive food eaten, the Christmas lights in the city centre will be switched off on the Twelfth Night on January 6, in line with tradition. Hopefully this will be sufficient to ward off any bad luck because it will be another three or four weeks before they are removed just as quietly as they arrived. The preparations for next Christmas will then begin.

Article taken from December issue of Hertfordshire Life

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